I love books. I love that moment when you open one and sink into it – you can escape from the world, into a story that’s way more interesting than yours will ever be.
— Elizabeth Scott
As a child, every Saturday morning would see me trundling down to the public library on my bike where I would hop from one foot to the other as I waited for the doors to open. At 9am on the dot I would dash in, return my books and select four more. (There was a limit in those days.)
I would be home, curled up on the lounge with my books, by 9:30am.
Half an hour before closing time, I would be back — returning the four books borrowed (and read) that morning and grabbing four more which, along with school library books, had to last me until the following Saturday.
Some kids spent their whole Saturday playing sport — not me.
I wasn’t one of those readers who would devour anything; science fiction, war and action stories and animal tales did not (and still don’t) float my boat. But, I still think I had quite a wide repertoire of books I loved to ‘sink into’.
Enid Blyton was a firm favourite. I do not care what people say about her writing being stereotyped, racist and sexist — she told a damn good story and, honestly, as I child I saw none of this. Sometimes adults and their ability to read between the lines (or beyond the lines) ruin a good book.
To this day, The Magic Faraway Tree (and other associated books in the set) remains a firm favourite, even though the language in it, and the length of the sentences, makes it really awkward to read aloud. Really though, what child would not want access to such a tree? I used to love imagining what sort of worlds I could visit.
I still own the complete set of original (bugger the PC version) Famous Five. Not being an adventurous, outdoorsy sort of person, the thing I loved about this series was that I could be that sort of person while I was reading.
The tales about boarding school life also sucked me in; Mallory Towers, St Clares and, of course, The Naughtiest Girl books made life at boarding school sound divine. Although I loved school, these girls had much more interesting school lives than I did.
Other much-thumbed books included, but by no means were limited to: The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder; pretty much anything by Roald Dahl (except James and the Giant Peach and Danny: The Champion of the World which I could never get into); the Ramona series by Beverly Cleary (I think it was the sisterly relationship which I fantasised about); and Ruth Manning Sanders’ collections of themed fairytales from around the world (speaking of which, if anyone knows where I can buy these …).
As a child I had certain authors I loved, but sometimes I would also pick books purely because I liked the front cover or the title. I wasn’t aware of consciously choosing books with themes that appealed, but obviously that is what I was doing.
If I was to analyse my favourite childhood books, I am sure I could work out the escapism within each one; fantasy worlds, friendships, adventure, travel and family relationships are all themes I can identify without too much thinking.
That being said, I do not wish to analyse some of the books I read now, as an adult. We will not go anywhere near my reasons for enjoying 50 Shades of Grey. Nor do I wish to think about why I love supernatural and murder themes so much. Scary escapism at its best.
On the other hand, I do know why I love authors like Jodi Piccoult and Graeme Simsion — they write on real-life topics which I can relate to. Their writing (and others who write on similar themes) also gives me ideas and alternative viewpoints to my own experiences. (While I am on this point, one of the best books I have ever read was Jodi Piccoult’s House Rules —a story about a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome who is accused of murder. There was so much in this book I could relate to (not the murder bit), so many ‘a-ha’ moments. Sadly, I allowed someone to borrow my copy; she moved interstate and I never saw it again. Lesson learned — don’t lend your favourite books to anyone.)
Learning something from a book is all well and good, but for the most part I read for pure entertainment and relaxation value. Apart from a good biography, I don’t read non-fiction unless I have to — who ever heard of someone escaping into reality?
For me, reading is all about escapism. I don’t agree that a good book has to contain a story ‘way more interesting than (mine) will ever be’, but a moment of fantasising, of ‘experiencing’ new things and of ‘living’ in another time or place — that is the pure joy of reading.